What Is a Conversion Van?

Jessica Ellis

A conversion van is a passenger van that has been customized with extra features through a third party manufacturer. Common conversions include the addition of travel features and the alteration of a van structure to accommodate disabled passengers. Conversion vans are frequently available through car dealerships or customization businesses, and can even be built to suit a customer's exact specification.

Some conversion vans are designed to accommodate people in a wheelchair.
Some conversion vans are designed to accommodate people in a wheelchair.

One of the major advantages of a conversion van over a motor home or bus is that it increases usable space and adds features while remaining close to the same size as a regular passenger van. This may be desirable for drivers that are not licensed to drive a larger vehicle, or are uncomfortable with the idea of driving an oversized automobile. The smaller size of a conversion van may also allow access on roads, trails, and even parking lots where outsized vans are not permitted.

Many conversion vans are outfitted for extensive road travel. Some versions, called high-tops, feature a customized roof that increased the vertical capacity of the van, allowing easier movement and additional storage. Common features in a travel-outfitted conversion van include DVD entertainment systems, single-chair seating or seating benches that convert to beds, and cabin-wide speaker systems. Larger vans may contain refrigerators, portable showers, bathrooms, and even a dining table, and are often referred to as Class B motor homes.

In addition to being outfitted for easy travel, some conversion van models are specially designed to meet the needs of disabled drivers or passengers. These models often feature the extended high top, to allow for the increased height needed for wheelchair seating. Some may feature electronic lift systems that allow disabled passenger to easily enter and exit the vehicle. Seating may be removable to allow for multiple wheelchairs or other transportation equipment, and the floor of the van may be lowered to allow adequate height within the cabin.

One of the most exciting aspects of a conversion van is that it can be designed to suit nearly any need. Conversion companies may not only be able to add lighting, DVD players, and other accessories, but can often customize exterior paint and trim as well as interior fabrics and colors. Vans can even be outfitted with electrical outlets, satellite dishes, and phone systems for use as news vans or mobile offices. While adding additional features tends to increase the cost of a van, used models with similar features may also be available from reputable dealers at a lower price.

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Discussion Comments


@Izzy78 - I can't really blame the parent for being worried. When I was in college, I taught a class and was responsible for driving a conversion van to different places. If you're a safe driver, you should be fine, but if something goes wrong, their center of gravity is so high that the van is almost guaranteed to flip if you get in an accident.

The article mentioned it, but what I always think of when someone mentions conversion vans is the news vans. I think that would be the prime definition of converting the van into something specialized. If you've never seen inside a news van, it is pretty impressive how they can fit all of the equipment into the small space. In movies, they always show detectives sitting in conversion vans doing surveillance, but I don't know if anything like that actually happens in real life.


@titans62 - When I was in middle school, we had a couple of the large, 12 and 9 passenger conversion vans that the sports teams used to travel to different places. I remember playing baseball, and we squeezed 14 people into the vans most of the time. It definitely couldn't have been safe at that point, since we couldn't even put seat belts on. That doesn't even take into consideration that we all had a bunch of equipment sitting under out seats and on our laps.

Once those reports you mentioned started coming out, one parent started petitioning the school board to get rid of the vans. She eventually got her way, and they got rid of the conversion vans. Now they have small buses that are still legal for teachers to drive without a special license.


@Emilski - I was kind of with you. I always thought of passenger vans and conversion vans as being the same thing.

When I was younger, the church I went to used to have a conversion can that would drive around and pick up all the kids to go to Wednesday Bible classes. They also used to van to pick up disabled members for Sunday services and other things, so this van had a special lift for wheelchairs.

It feels like I don't see as many conversion vans on the road as I used to whether it is for churches or some other purpose. I know there were a lot of reports that came out saying that driving those vans was dangerous, so I know a lot of places stopped using them. I hardly even see used conversion vans for sale anymore.


I guess I always thought of conversion vans being just the larger cargo-type vans that are larger than minivans. I didn't know that they had the requirement of actually having to have modifications to them.

One of my aunts used to have a true conversion van. She had a couple of kids, so they had a small TV put in as well as some changes to the seating. Her father-in-law was disabled, so they needed to make some changes to the van in case they ever needed to take him anywhere.

I also had a neighbor when I was growing up whose husband was in a wheelchair. They had some special modifications made to their van that included ramps and a special section to secure the wheelchair. It was made so that he could get in and out of the van without needing someone to help him, which was convenient for both of them.

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